Belgian artist claims ‘parody’ for copying photo, court isn’t laughing

Belgian artist sued for using journalist's photograph as 'inspiration'

belgian artist sued using photojournalists work inspiration de standaard tuymans vangiel lawsuit
Photo: Katrijn Van Giel; art: Luc Tuymans; composition: De Standaard

A famous Belgian artist was found guilty of plagiarism for using a photojournalist’s picture to create a painting that looks remarkably similar. According to PetaPixel, Luc Tuymans used a professional photo of politician Jean-Marie Dedecker, taken by photojournalist Katrijn Van Giel, as “inspiration” to create a painting that has the same dimensions, perspective, and structure of the photo. The unauthorized usage led Van Giel to sue.

However, using existing images is what Tuymans is famous for, starting the practice back when Polaroids were in use. Titled A Belgian Politician, he began exhibiting the painting in question in 2011, and doesn’t deny he used Van Giel’s photo. But he disputed the plagiarism charge in a Belgian court, saying that the painting should be filed under fair-use as parody. Tuymans’ lawyer said, “Humor and parody are not restricted to slapstick. Luc Tuymans wanted to create a strong image to deliver a critique of the move to the right-wing in Belgian society. His work is therefore more than just a painted version of a photo. The format and color contrasts are different, so that no confusion could be possible.”

The defense did not fly: The prosecution lawyer swayed the judge by arguing that parody requires humor, and the painting has none of it and was not exhibited in a humorous way. Van Giel’s lawyer remarked, after winning the case, “We are happy that the court was not mislead by Tuymans’ argument that his work is a parody. The court followed our argument that the work of Tuymans is not a humorous work, which is the most important requirement for a work to qualify as a parody.”

A judge has ordered Tuymans to stop showing his painting or reproducing it, or else face approximately $569,000 in charges. Flanders Today reported that Van Giel is demanding nearly $57,000 in damages, however the Belgian news site News Monkey clarified that neither prosecution nor defense have suggested an exact amount — though Tuymans’s lawyer said, “It is quite clear that they are out for a hefty sum.” Tuymans plans on appealing the decision.

As PetaPixel points out, a similar incident occurred here in the U.S., where artist Shepard Fairey based his famous portrait of President Barack Obama from an AP photo.